Aug 212016
 

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Today is the birthday (1872) of Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, an English illustrator and poet, best known for his drawings in black ink, influenced by the style of Japanese woodcuts, which emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic. He was a leading figure in the Aesthetic Movement which also included Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler. Beardsley’s life was short (25 years) but his contribution to the development of Art Nouveau was immense.

During his lifetime, and ever since, Beardsley’s life and work have been the subject of intense discussion ranging from passionate endorsement to furious condemnation, with not much room in between. I know from experience that undergraduate rooms in the late 1960s and early 1970s were wallpapered with his posters, mostly, I think, in a trite way. His work no longer shocks as it did in Victorian England, so it had become a rather mild nod in the direction of decadence.  The seemingly enduring mystery among scholars is the question of what he was attempting to achieve by his work. I’m not an art historian but it all seems rather simple to me. He lived in Victorian England in the “gay 90s” and knew the Paris of la belle époque. This heady world fascinated him and he wanted to make a mark. He did. What more is there to know?

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Beardsley was born in Brighton on the south coast of England. Beardsley’s mother, Ellen Agnus Pitt (1846–1932), was the daughter of Surgeon-Major William Pitt of the Indian Army. The Pitts were a well-established and respected family in Brighton, and Beardsley’s mother married a man of lower social status than might have been expected. In 1883 his family settled in London, and in the following year he appeared in public as an “infant musical phenomenon”, playing at several concerts with his sister. In January 1885 he began to attend Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School, where he spent the next four years. His first poems, drawings and cartoons appeared in print in “Past and Present”, the school’s magazine. In 1888 he obtained a post in an architect’s office, and afterwards one in the Guardian Life and Fire Insurance Company. In 1891, under the advice of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, he took up art as a profession. In 1892 he attended the classes at the Westminster School of Art under Professor Fred Brown.

Also in 1892, Beardsley traveled to Paris, where he discovered the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and the Parisian fashion for Japanese prints, both of which would be major influences on his own style. Beardsley’s first commission was Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory (1893), which he illustrated for the publishing house J. M. Dent and Company.

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His six years of major creative output can be divided into several periods, identified by the form of his signature. In the early period his work is mostly unsigned. During 1891 and 1892 he progressed to using his initials, A.V.B. In mid-1892, the period of Le Morte d’Arthur and The Bon Mots he used a Japanese-influenced mark which became progressively more graceful, sometimes accompanied by A.B. in block capitals. He co-founded The Yellow Book with US writer Henry Harland, and for the first four editions he served as art editor and produced the cover designs and many illustrations for the magazine. He was also closely aligned with Aestheticism, the British counterpart of Decadence and Symbolism. Most of his images are done in ink, and feature large dark areas contrasted with large blank ones, and areas of fine detail contrasted with areas with none at all.

Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era, renowned for his dark and perverse images and grotesque erotica, which were the main themes of his later work. His illustrations were in black and white, against a white background. Some of his drawings, inspired by Japanese shunga artwork, featured enormous genitalia. His most famous erotic illustrations concerned themes of history and legend, including his illustrations for a privately printed edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, and his drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, which eventually premiered in Paris in 1896. Other major illustration projects included an 1896 edition of The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, and the collection A Book of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (1897).

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He also produced extensive illustrations for books and magazines and worked for magazines such as The Studio and The Savoy, of which he was a co-founder. As a co-founder of The Savoy, Beardsley was able to pursue his writing as well as illustration, and a number of his writings, including “Under the Hill” (a story based on the Tannhäuser legend) and “The Ballad of a Barber” appeared in the magazine.

Beardsley’s work reflected the decadence of his era and his influence was enormous, clearly visible in the work of the French Symbolists, the Poster art Movement of the 1890s and the work of many later-period Art Nouveau artists such as Pape and Clarke. Beardsley was a public as well as a private eccentric. He said, “I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing.” Like Wilde and other aesthetes, Beardsley was meticulous about his attire: dove-grey suits, hats, and ties, and yellow gloves. He would appear at his publisher’s in a morning coat and patent leather pumps.

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Although Beardsley’s sexuality has been discussed numerous times no data outside of his art exist. Numerous fanciful tales exist – for example, that he got his sister pregnant and they she either miscarried or had an abortion – but this stuff all comes from the gossip mill. Apparently he was generally regarded as asexual. During his entire career, Beardsley had recurrent attacks of tuberculosis, which he was diagnosed with at age 7. He suffered frequent lung hemorrhages and was often unable to work or leave his home. It was either Beardsley himself or Wilde who quipped that both he and his lungs were affected.

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Beardsley converted to Roman Catholicism in March 1897, and subsequently begged his publisher, Leonard Smithers, to “destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings… by all that is holy all obscene drawings.” Smithers ignored Beardsley’s wishes, and actually continued to sell reproductions as well as forgeries of Beardsley’s work.

In 1897 deteriorating health prompted his move to the French Riviera, where he died a year later on 16 March 1898 at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Menton, attended by his mother and sister. Following a Requiem Mass in Menton Cathedral the following day, his remains were interred in the adjacent cemetery.

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I assume that Beardsley’s art is well known, so I’ll give a small gallery which I’ll intersperse with some quotes.

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All humanity inspires me. Every passer-by is my unconscious sitter; and as strange as it may seem, I really draw folk as I see them. Surely it is not my fault that they fall into certain lines and angles.

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I see everything in a grotesque way. When I go to the theatre, for example, things shape themselves before my eyes just as a I draw them — the people on the stage, the footlights, the queer faces and garb of the audience in the boxes and stalls. They all seem weird and strange to me. Things have always impressed me in this way.

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What is a portrait good for, unless it shows just how the subject was seen by the painter? In the old days before photography came in a sitter had a perfect right to say to the artist: “Paint me just as I am.” Now if he wishes absolute fidelity he can go to the photographer and get it.

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I think the title page I drew for Salomé was after all “impossible”. You see booksellers couldn’t stick it up in their windows.

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I have always done my sketches, as people would say, for the fun of it… I have worked to amuse myself, and if it has amused the public as well, so much the better for me.

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Beardsley’s era was dominated in English cuisine by Isabella Beeton and in French by Auguste Escoffier, both of whom I have mentioned many times already. Anything decadent would be suitable as a recipe. I found this picture online and thought it captured the spirit perfectly.

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It is an individual serving of beef, topped with foie gras (both of which have been seared), and encased in puff pastry – served with a little spinach and demi-glace.

Mar 022016
 

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Today is the birthday (1904) of Theodor Seuss Geisel a U.S. writer and illustrator best known for writing and illustrating popular children’s books under the pen name Dr. Seuss. His work includes several of the most popular children’s books of all time, selling over 600 million copies and being translated into more than 20 languages by the time of his death.

Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Theodor Robert and Henrietta (née Seuss) Geisel. All of his grandparents were German immigrants. His father managed the family brewery and was later appointed to supervise Springfield’s public park system by Mayor John A. Denison after the brewery closed because of Prohibition. Mulberry Street in Springfield was made famous in Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street! and is less than a mile southwest of his boyhood home on Fairfield Street.

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Geisel attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1925. At Dartmouth, he joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, eventually rising to editor-in-chief. While at Dartmouth, he was caught drinking gin with nine friends in his room. At the time, the possession and consumption of alcohol was illegal under Prohibition laws and as a result of this infraction, Dean Craven Laycock insisted that Geisel resign from all extracurricular activities, including the college humor magazine. To continue work on the Jack-O-Lantern without the administration’s knowledge, Geisel began signing his work with the pen name “Seuss”. He was encouraged in his writing by professor of rhetoric W. Benfield Pressey, whom he described as his “big inspiration for writing” at Dartmouth.

Upon graduating from Dartmouth, he entered Lincoln College, Oxford intending to earn a doctorate in English literature. At Oxford, he met Helen Palmer, who encouraged him to give up becoming an English teacher in favor of pursuing drawing as a career. Geisel left Oxford without earning a degree and returned to the United States in February 1927, where he immediately began submitting writings and drawings to magazines, book publishers, and advertising agencies. Making use of his time in Europe, he pitched a series of cartoons called Eminent Europeans to Life magazine, but the magazine passed on it. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the July 16, 1927 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. This single $25 sale encouraged Geisel to move from Springfield to New York City.

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Later that year, Geisel accepted a job as writer and illustrator at the humor magazine Judge, and he felt financially stable enough to marry Helen. His first cartoon for Judge appeared on October 22, 1927, and the Geisels were married on November 29. Geisel’s first work signed “Dr. Seuss” was published in Judge about six months after he started working there.

In early 1928, one of Geisel’s cartoons for Judge mentioned Flit, a common bug spray at the time manufactured by Standard Oil of New Jersey. According to Geisel, the wife of an advertising executive in charge of advertising Flit saw Geisel’s cartoon at a hairdresser’s and urged her husband to sign him. Geisel’s first Flit ad appeared on May 31, 1928, and the campaign continued sporadically until 1941. The campaign’s catchphrase “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” became a part of popular culture. It spawned a song and was used as a punch line for comedians such as Fred Allen and Jack Benny. As Geisel gained notoriety for the Flit campaign, his work was sought after and began to appear regularly in magazines such as Life, Liberty, and Vanity Fair.

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In 1936, the couple were returning from an ocean voyage to Europe when the rhythm of the ship’s engines inspired the poem that became his first book: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Based on Geisel’s varied accounts, the book was rejected by between 20 and 43 publishers. According to Geisel, he was walking home to burn the manuscript when a chance encounter with an old Dartmouth classmate led to its publication by Vanguard Press. Geisel wrote four more books before the US entered World War II. This included The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins in 1938, as well as The King’s Stilts and The Seven Lady Godivas in 1939, all of which were in prose, atypically for him. This was followed by Horton Hatches the Egg in 1940, in which Geisel returned to the use of poetry.

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As World War II began, Geisel turned to political cartoons, drawing over 400 in two years as editorial cartoonist for the left-leaning New York City daily newspaper, PM. Geisel’s political cartoons, later published in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, denounced Hitler and Mussolini and were highly critical of non-interventionists (“isolationists”), most notably Charles Lindbergh, who opposed US entry into the war. One cartoon depicted all Japanese Americans as latent traitors or fifth-columnists (his moral blind spot which he later recanted after Hiroshima), while other cartoons simultaneously deplored the racism at home against Jews and blacks that harmed the war effort. His cartoons were strongly supportive of President Roosevelt’s handling of the war, combining the usual exhortations to ration and contribute to the war effort with frequent attacks on Congress (especially the Republican Party), parts of the press (such as the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Times-Herald), and others for criticism of Roosevelt, criticism of aid to the Soviet Union, investigation of suspected Communists, and other offenses that he depicted as leading to disunity and helping the Nazis, intentionally or inadvertently.

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In 1942, Geisel turned his energies to direct support of the U.S. war effort. First, he worked drawing posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. Then, in 1943, he joined the Army as a Captain and was commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces, where he wrote films that included Your Job in Germany, a 1945 propaganda film about peace in Europe after World War II; Our Job in Japan; and the Private Snafu series of adult army training films. While in the Army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.[43] Our Job in Japan became the basis for the commercially released film Design for Death (1947), a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950) was based on an original story by Seuss and won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

After the war, Geisel and his wife moved to La Jolla, California where he returned to writing children’s books. He wrote many, including such favorites as If I Ran the Zoo (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955), If I Ran the Circus (1956), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), and Green Eggs and Ham (1960).

In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. William Ellsworth Spaulding was the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin (he later became its chairman), and he compiled a list of 348 words that he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to “bring back a book children can’t put down”. Nine months later, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat, using 236 of the words given to him. It retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel’s earlier works but, because of its simplified vocabulary, it could be read by beginning readers. The Cat in the Hat and subsequent books written for young children achieved significant international success and they remain very popular today.

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Geisel died of oral cancer on September 24, 1991 at his home in La Jolla at the age of 87. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered. On December 1, 1995, four years after his death, University of California, San Diego’s University Library Building was renamed Geisel Library in honor of Geisel and Audrey for the generous contributions that they made to the library and their devotion to improving literacy.

Geisel’s most famous pen name is regularly pronounced /ˈsjuːs/, an anglicized pronunciation inconsistent with his German surname (the standard German pronunciation is [ˈzɔʏ̯s]). He himself noted that it rhymed with “voice” (his own pronunciation being /ˈsɔɪs/). Alexander Liang, one of his collaborators on the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, wrote of it:

You’re wrong as the deuce
And you shouldn’t rejoice
If you’re calling him Seuss.
He pronounces it Soice.

Geisel switched to the anglicized pronunciation because it “evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children’s books to be associated with—Mother Goose” and because most people used this pronunciation.

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It’s a no-brainer to choose green eggs and ham as the recipe du jour, but what recipe should I use? Many cooks get away with just putting green food coloring in scrambled eggs. This seems a bit tame for me: not especially appetizing. Also you have to consider how to parse “green eggs and ham.” Geisel’s own illustration suggests it should be “green eggs and green ham,” but the Italian translation follows the usual English understanding “green eggs and regular ham.”

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I’ll go with the latter for my recipe. It’s not a vivid green recipe, but it is delicious.

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Start by poaching spinach, and crisping some ham (I’m using prosciutto today because I live in Italy).

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Beat 2 eggs and add the spinach. Then pour into a hot omelet pan.

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Add the ham.

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And serve.

My breakfast this morning — a real change just to honor Dr Seuss. I normally eat leftovers: curry, pasta, fruit or whatever.

Dec 082015
 

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Today is the birthday (1894) of James Grover Thurber, cartoonist, author, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit. Thurber was best known for his cartoons and short stories, published mainly in The New Yorker magazine and collected in his numerous books. One of the most popular humorists of his time, Thurber celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people. In collaboration with his college friend, Elliott Nugent, he wrote the Broadway comedy, “The Male Animal,” later adapted into a film, which starred Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland.

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Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Charles L. Thurber and Mary Agnes “Mame” (née Fisher) Thurber. Both of his parents greatly influenced his work. His father, a sporadically employed clerk and minor politician who dreamed of being a lawyer or an actor, is said to have been the inspiration for the small, timid protagonist typical of many of his stories. Thurber described his mother as a “born comedian” and “one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known.” She was a practical joker and on one occasion pretended to be crippled and attended a faith healer’s revival, only to jump up and proclaim herself healed.

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Thurber had two brothers, William and Robert. Once, while playing a game of William Tell, his brother shot James in the eye with an arrow, and Thurber lost that eye. This injury would later cause him to become almost entirely blind. Unable in his childhood to partake in sports and other physical activities because of his injury, he developed a creative mind which he then used to express himself in his writings. Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran suggests Thurber’s imagination may be partly explained by Charles Bonnet syndrome, a neurological condition that causes complex visual hallucinations in otherwise mentally healthy people who have suffered some level of visual loss.

From 1913 to 1918, Thurber attended Ohio State University, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He never graduated from the university because his poor eyesight prevented him from taking a mandatory ROTC course. In 1995 he was posthumously awarded a degree.

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From 1918 to 1920, Thurber worked as a code clerk for the Department of State, first in Washington, D.C., and then at the Embassy of the United States in Paris. On returning to Columbus, he began his career as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch from 1921 to 1924. During part of this time, he reviewed current books, films, and plays in a weekly column called “Credos and Curios”, a title that later would be given to a posthumous collection of his work. Thurber returned to Paris during this period, where he wrote for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers.

In 1925, Thurber moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, getting a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post. He joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1927 as an editor, with the help of E.B. White, his friend and fellow New Yorker contributor. His career as a cartoonist began in 1930 after White found some of Thurber’s drawings in a trash can and submitted them for publication; White inked-in some of these earlier drawings to make them reproduce better for the magazine, and years later expressed deep regret that he had done such a thing. Thurber contributed both his writings and his drawings to The New Yorker until the 1950s.

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Thurber was married twice. In 1922, Thurber married Althea Adams. The marriage was troubled and ended in divorce in May 1935. They had a daughter Rosemary together, and lived in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He remarried in June 1935 to Helen Wismer (1902–1986).

Thurber was stricken with a blood clot on the brain on October 4, 1961, and underwent emergency surgery. The operation was successful, but he died, aged 66, due to complications from pneumonia which set in. His last words, aside from the repeated word “God,” were “God bless… God damn”, according to his wife, Helen. Ironically, Thurber could be the poster child for the saying “the operation was a success but the patient died.” It would be suitably Thurberesque.

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As a tribute here’s a few of my favorite Thurber quotes and cartoons:

I used to wake up at 4 A.M. and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness.

A drawing is always dragged down to the level of its caption.

You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.

The nation that complacently and fearfully allows its artists and writers to become suspected rather than respected is no longer regarded as a nation possessed with humor or depth.

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Thurber’s ridicule of pretentious talk about wine and cheese led me to ask – what is a reliable cheese? In what sense can one rely on one cheese versus another? In some ways I see this as asking what the most versatile cheese might be. That question in itself is hard to answer. No single cheese covers the waterfront and some, of course, serve highly specialized needs. So I pondered a kind of “desert island” cheese question. If for some reason I were limited for the rest of my life to one kind of cheese, what would it be? This took a lot of thought plus a tour around the cheese section of my local market. Finally, I settled on brie. It’s one of my favorite cheeses anyway – has been all my life.

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Brie is a soft cow’s milk cheese named after Brie, the French region from which it originated (roughly corresponding to the modern département of Seine-et-Marne). It is pale in color with a slight grayish tinge under a rind of white mold. The whitish moldy rind is typically eaten, with its flavor depending largely upon the ingredients used and its manufacturing environment. It is made worldwide, but the French government officially certifies only two types of cheese to be sold under that name: Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun.

Brie de Meaux is an unpasteurized Brie, with an average weight of 2.8 kg (6.2 lb) for a diameter of 36 to 37 cm (14 to 15 in). It is manufactured at the town of Meaux in the Brie region of northern France since the 8th century, was originally known as the “King’s Cheese”, or, after the French Revolution, the “King of Cheeses,” and was enjoyed by the peasantry and nobility alike. It was granted the protection of Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status in 1980, and it is produced primarily in the eastern part of the Parisian basin.

Brie de Melun has an average weight of 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb) and a diameter of 27 cm (11 in). It is therefore smaller than Brie de Meaux but is considered to have a stronger flavor and more pungent smell. It is made with unpasteurized milk. Brie de Melun is also available in the form of “Old Brie” or black brie. It was granted AOC status in 1980.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that these AOC bries are the best, but they are distinctive and worth a try. But I’ve had a perfectly palatable brie made locally in Argentina as well as in Italy. Smoked brie is also worth a taste, but I don’t care for those with added ingredients such as spices or fruits and nuts. I can add them myself if the need arises. Brie is, indeed, versatile; it makes a nice sandwich on its own or with other things, it can be baked, grilled, or simply melted, you can use it for pizza, stuffing vegetables and so forth, and it works well with both sweet and savory dishes. This link provides an abundance of ideas (from which I also took this amazing photo):

grilled jerked chicken with peaches on a skewer

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/27/brie-cheese-recipes_n_3677996.html

Baked brie is a treat for me. Pop a whole wheel in a moderate oven – 350°F – for about 15 minutes until it is oozing and warm, drizzled with what you will – honey, preserves, spicy sauce – and then spread it on crusty bread. Or encase it in puff pastry and bake it until the pastry is golden.

May 232015
 

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Today is the birthday (1707) of Carl Linnaeus (also known after his ennoblement as Carl von Linné), Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology. Many of his writings were in Latin, and his name is rendered in Latin as Carolus Linnæus (after 1761 Carolus a Linné).

Linnaeus was born in the countryside of Småland, in southern Sweden. He received most of his higher education at Uppsala University, and began giving lectures in botany there in 1730. He lived abroad between 1735 and 1738, where he studied and also published a first edition of his Systema Naturae in the Netherlands. He then returned to Sweden, where he became professor of medicine and botany at Uppsala. In the 1740s, he was sent on several journeys through Sweden to find and classify plants and animals. In the 1750s and ’60s, he continued to collect and classify animals, plants, and minerals, and published several volumes. At the time of his death, he was one of the most acclaimed scientists in Europe.

In August 1728, Linnaeus decided to attend Uppsala University on the advice of a mentor, who believed it would be a good choice if Linnaeus wanted to study both medicine and botany. Although the faculty and lectures had seen better days, Linnaeus met a new benefactor there, Olof Celsius, who was a professor of theology and an amateur botanist. He received Linnaeus into his home and allowed him use of his library, which was one of the richest botanical libraries in Sweden, as well as taking him on specimen collecting expeditions.

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In 1729, Linnaeus wrote a thesis, Praeludia Sponsaliorum Plantarum on plant sexual reproduction. This attracted the attention of Olaf Rudbeck of the medical faculty who in May 1730 selected Linnaeus to give lectures at the university even though he was only a second-year student. His lectures were popular, and Linnaeus often addressed an audience of 300 people. In June, Linnaeus moved from Celsius’ house to Rudbeck’s to become the tutor of the three youngest of his 24 children. His friendship with Celsius did not wane, however, and they continued their botanical expeditions. Over that winter, Linnaeus began to doubt the validity of the then current Tournefort system of classification and decided to create one of his own. His plan was to divide the plants by the number of stamens and pistils. He began writing several books, which would later result in, for example, Genera Plantarum and Critica Botanica. He also produced a book on the plants grown in the Uppsala Botanical Garden, Adonis Uplandicus.

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During a visit with his parents, Linnaeus told them about his plan to travel to Lapland; Rudbeck had made the journey in 1695, but the detailed results of his exploration were lost in a fire seven years afterwards. Linnaeus’ hope was to find new plants, animals and possibly valuable minerals. He was also curious about the customs of the native Sami people, reindeer-herding nomads who travelled Scandinavia’s vast tundra. In April 1732, Linnaeus was awarded a grant from the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala for his journey.

Linnaeus began his expedition from Uppsala in May; he travelled on foot and horse, bringing with him his journal, botanical and ornithological manuscripts and sheets of paper for pressing plants. Near Gävle he found great quantities of Campanula serpyllifolia, later known as Linnaea borealis, the twinflower that would become his favorite. He sometimes dismounted on the way to examine a flower or rock and was particularly interested in mosses and lichens, the latter a main part of the diet of the reindeer, a common and economically vital animal in Lapland.

Linnaeus travelled clockwise around the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, making major inland incursions from Umeå, Luleå and Tornio. He returned from his six-month-long, over 2,000 kilometer (1,200 mi) expedition in October, having gathered and observed many plants, birds and rocks. Although Lapland was a region with limited biodiversity, Linnaeus described about 100 previously unidentified plants. These became the basis of his book Flora Lapponica.

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In Flora Lapponica Linnaeus first used his ideas about nomenclature and classification in a practical way. The account covered 534 species, used the Linnaean classification system and included, for the described species, geographical distribution and taxonomic notes. Flora Lapponica is now credited with being the first modern treatise on botany. The staggering fact about Linnaeus’ system of classification of plants and animals is that it not only organizes them according to perceived PATTERN in nature (very important to Enlightenment thinkers), but inherent in it is the PROCESS whereby the pattern emerged: evolution. Species in the same genus don’t just look alike, they are like “cousins” in a gigantic “family.” Lions and tigers, for example, must have had a common ancestor at some point. This an intellectual hobbyhorse of mine which I could veer off into at this point, but I’ll spare you. Instead, if you are interested, read the chapter on taxonomy in The Natural History of the Traditional Quilt :

http://www.amazon.com/Natural-History-Traditional-African-Writers-ebook/dp/B00J4XVN00/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1432418892&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=Forrest+Blincoe+Quilt

[Not sure why Amazon classifies me as an “African Writer”]

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It was also during this expedition that Linnaeus had a flash of insight regarding the classification of mammals. Upon observing the lower jawbone of a horse at the side of a road he was traveling, Linnaeus remarked: “If I only knew how many teeth and of what kind every animal had, how many teats and where they were placed, I should perhaps be able to work out a perfectly natural system for the arrangement of all quadrupeds.”

In 1734, Linnaeus led a small group of students to Dalarna. Funded by the Governor of Dalarna, the expedition was to catalogue known natural resources and discover new ones, but also to gather intelligence on Norwegian mining activities at Røros.

Back in Uppsala, Linnaeus’ relations with a colleague who was helping him took a turn for the worst, and thus he gladly accepted an invitation from the student Claes Sohlberg to spend the Christmas holiday in Falun with Sohlberg’s family. Sohlberg’s father was a mining inspector, and let Linnaeus visit the mines near Falun. Sohland’s father suggested to Linnaeus he should take his son to the Dutch Republic and continue to tutor him there for an annual salary. At that time, the Dutch Republic was one of the most revered places to study natural history and a common place for Swedes to take their doctoral degree; Linnaeus, who was interested in both of these, accepted.

April 1735, Linnaeus and Sohlberg set out for the Netherlands, with Linnaeus to take a doctoral degree in medicine at the University of Harderwijk. On the way, they stopped in Hamburg, where they met the mayor, who proudly showed them a wonder of nature which he possessed: the remains of a seven-headed hydra. Linnaeus quickly discovered it was a fake: jaws and clawed feet from weasels and skins from snakes had been glued together. The provenance of the hydra suggested to Linnaeus it had been manufactured by monks to represent the Beast of Revelation. As much as this may have upset the mayor, Linnaeus made his observations public and the mayor’s dreams of selling the hydra for an enormous sum were ruined. Fearing his wrath, Linnaeus and Sohlberg had to leave Hamburg quickly.

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When Linnaeus reached Harderwijk, he began working toward a degree immediately; at the time, Harderwijk was known for awarding “instant” degrees after as little as a week. First he handed in a thesis on the cause of malaria he had written in Sweden, which he then defended in a public debate. He is now known to have been wrong about the cause, not having a microscope good enough to see malarial parasites, which were spread by mosquitoes breeding in the water that collected in ruts and puddles.

The next step was to take an oral examination and to diagnose a patient. After less than two weeks, he took his degree and became a doctor, at the age of 28. During the summer, Linnaeus met a friend from Uppsala, Peter Artedi. Before their departure from Uppsala, Artedi and Linnaeus had decided should one of them die, the survivor would finish the other’s work. Ten weeks later, Artedi drowned in one of the canals of Amsterdam, and his unfinished manuscript on the classification of fish was left to Linnaeus to complete.

One of the first scientists Linnaeus met in the Netherlands was Johan Frederik Gronovius to whom Linnaeus showed one of the several manuscripts he had brought with him from Sweden. The manuscript described his new system for classifying plants. When Gronovius saw it, he was very impressed, and offered to help pay for the printing. With an additional monetary contribution by the Scottish doctor Isaac Lawson, the manuscript was published as Systema Naturae (1735).

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Linnaeus became acquainted with one of the most respected physicians and botanists in the Netherlands, Herman Boerhaave, who tried to convince Linnaeus to make a career there. Boerhaave offered him a journey to South Africa and America, but Linnaeus declined, stating he would not stand the heat. Instead, Boerhaave convinced Linnaeus that he should visit the botanist Johannes Burman. After his visit, Burman, impressed with his guest’s knowledge, decided Linnaeus should stay with him during the winter. During his stay, Linnaeus helped Burman with his Thesaurus Zeylanicus. Burman also helped Linnaeus with the books on which he was working: Fundamenta Botanica and Bibliotheca Botanica.

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Linnaeus’ classification system revolutionized biology in many ways. Most importantly it paved the way for the development of theories of evolution. The Linnaean system classified nature within a nested hierarchy, starting with three kingdoms. Kingdoms were divided into classes and they, in turn, into orders, and thence into genera (singular: genus), which were divided into species (singular: species !!!). Below the rank of species he sometimes recognized taxa of a lower (unnamed) rank; these have since acquired standardized names such as variety in botany and subspecies in zoology. Modern taxonomy includes a rank of family between order and genus and a rank of phylum between kingdom and class that were not present in Linnaeus’ original system.

Linnaeus’ groupings were based upon shared physical characteristics, and not simply upon differences. Of his higher groupings, only those for animals are still in use, and the groupings themselves have been significantly changed since their conception, as have the principles behind them. Nevertheless, Linnaeus is credited with establishing the idea of a hierarchical structure of classification which is based upon observable characteristics and intended to reflect natural relationships. While the underlying details concerning what are considered to be scientifically valid “observable characteristics” have changed with expanding knowledge (for example, DNA sequencing, unavailable in Linnaeus’ time, has proven to be a tool of considerable utility for classifying living organisms and establishing their evolutionary relationships), the fundamental principle remains sound.

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According to German biologist Ernst Haeckel, the question of the origin of humans began with Linnaeus. He helped future research in the natural history of Homo sapiens by describing humans just as he described any other plant or animal. Linnaeus classified humans among the primates (as they were later called) beginning with the first edition of Systema Naturae. During his time at Hartekamp, he had the opportunity to examine several monkeys and noted similarities between them and humans. He pointed out both species basically have the same anatomy; except for speech, he found no other differences. Thus he placed humans and monkeys under the same category, Anthropomorpha, meaning “like humans.” This classification received criticism from other biologists such as Johan Gottschalk Wallerius, Jacob Theodor Klein and Johann Georg Gmelin on the ground that it is illogical to describe a human as “like a human.” In a letter to Gmelin from 1747, Linnaeus replied:

It does not please [you] that I’ve placed Man among the Anthropomorpha, perhaps because of the term ‘with human form’, but man learns to know himself. Let’s not quibble over words. It will be the same to me whatever name we apply. But I seek from you and from the whole world a generic difference between man and simian that [follows] from the principles of Natural History. I absolutely know of none. If only someone might tell me a single one! If I would have called man a simian or vice versa, I would have brought together all the theologians against me. Perhaps I ought to have by virtue of the law of the discipline.

There were, of course, reactions from the church. First, putting humans at the same level as monkeys or apes lowered the spiritually higher position that humans were assumed to have in the great chain of being. Second, because the Bible says humans were created in the image of God (theomorphism), if monkeys/apes and humans were not distinctly and separately designed, that would mean monkeys and apes were created in the image of God as well. This was something many could not accept. The conflict between world views that was caused by asserting humans are a type of animal is ongoing. Linnaeus started it.

After such criticism, Linnaeus felt he needed to explain himself more clearly. The 10th edition of Systema Naturae introduced new terms, including Mammalia and Primates, the latter of which would replace Anthropomorpha as well as giving humans the full binomial Homo sapiens. The new classification received less criticism, but many natural historians still believed he had demoted humans from their former place to rule over nature, not be a part of it. Linnaeus believed that humans biologically belong to the animal kingdom and had to be included in it. In his book Dieta Naturalis, he said, “One should not vent one’s wrath on animals. Theology decrees that man has a soul and that the animals are mere ‘aoutomata mechanica,’ but I believe they would be better advised that animals have a soul and that the difference is of nobility.”

Linnaeus added a second species to the genus Homo in Systema Naturae based on a figure and description by Jacobus Bontius from a 1658 publication: Homo troglodytes (“caveman”) and published a third in 1771: Homo lar. Swedish historian Gunnar Broberg states that the new human species Linnaeus described were actually simians or native people clad in skins to frighten colonial settlers, whose appearance had been exaggerated in accounts to Linnaeus.

In early editions of Systema Naturae, many well-known legendary creatures were included such as the phoenix, dragon, and manticore as well as cryptids like the satyrus, which Linnaeus collected into the catch-all category Paradoxa. Broberg thought Linnaeus was trying to offer a natural explanation and demystify the world of superstition. Linnaeus tried to debunk some of these creatures, as he had with the hydra; regarding the purported remains of dragons, Linnaeus wrote that they were either derived from lizards or rays. For Homo troglodytes he asked the Swedish East India Company to search for one, but they did not find any signs of its existence. Homo lar has since been reclassified as Hylobates lar, the lar gibbon.

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In the first edition of Systema Naturae, Linnaeus subdivided the human species into four varieties based on continent and skin color: “Europæus albus” (white European), “Americanus rubescens” (red American), “Asiaticus fuscus” (brown Asian) and “Africanus Niger” (black African). In the tenth edition of Systema Naturae he further detailed stereotypical characteristics for each variety, based on the concept of the four temperaments from classical antiquity, and changed the description of Asians’ skin tone to “luridus” (yellow). Additionally, Linnaeus created a wastebasket taxon “monstrosus” for “wild and monstrous humans, unknown groups, and more or less abnormal people.”

Linnaeus travelled Scandinavia and nearby parts of Europe, but, because he lived in the great Age of Discovery, his disciples journeyed the world and expanded his system greatly. Every ship sent out to map the world had at least one naturalist aboard. What Linnaeus set in motion is incalculable in any number of scientific fields from Anthropology to Zoology.

On his travels Linnaeus visited Gotland, largest of the Baltic Islands, and on my foodie bucket list. The most famous regional dish is Saffron Rice pudding “Saffranspannkaka”. It is served with whipped cream and dewberry jam ”Salmbärssylt”. Other traditional dishes include “Glödhoppa” (lightly cured lamb, boiled, then fried with a mustard-coating) and “Ugnstrull” (a rye bun filled mainly with pork). Where’s my plane ticket?

I’m in a dreadful rush, so here’s a recipe for Saffranspannkaka modified from here: http://www.food.com/recipe/swedish-saffranspannkaka-saffron-cake-60725

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Saffranspannkaka

Ingredients

1 cup short-grain rice
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 cups water
1 1⁄4 cups cream
1 cup milk
1⁄4 teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 cup almonds, skins removed and roughly chopped
5 eggs

Instructions

Boil the rice on low heat with the salt and water until it is almost dry.

Blend in the cream and continue to boil. Pour in the milk and stir to form a creamy porridge.

Take off the heat and stir in the saffron, sugar and almonds.

Beat the eggs and add them to the porridge, stirring well to combine.

Pour the batter into a buttered oven dish about 11 x 15 inches.

Bake at 225°C/435°F about 30 minutes. Test with a toothpick. It should not be too dry or too moist.

When serving, cut it up directly from the dish and serve with whipped cream and dewberry (traditional), lingonberry, or mulberry jam.

Apr 232014
 

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Today is the feast of Saint George (Greek: Γεώργιος (Georgios), Classical Syriac: ܓܝܘܪܓܝܣ (Giwargis), Latin: Georgius) He was born in Lydda in Roman Palestine some time between 275 and 281, and was a soldier in the Roman army. He was later venerated as a Christian martyr. His father was Gerontius, a Greek Christian from Cappadocia, and an official in the Roman army. His mother, Polychronia was a local Greek Christian of Palestine. George became an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian. In hagiography, Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic (Western and Eastern Rites), Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches. He is immortalized in the tale of Saint George and the Dragon, and is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

Saint George has numerous patronages around the world, including: Georgia, England, Egypt, Bulgaria, Aragon, Catalonia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Russia and Syria, as well as the cities of Genoa, Amersfoort, Beirut, Drobeta Turnu-Severin,  Fakiha, Bteghrine, Cáceres, Ferrara, Freiburg im Breisgau, Kragujevac, Kumanovo, Ljubljana, Pérouges, Pomorie, Preston, Qormi, Rio de Janeiro, Lydda, Lviv, Barcelona, Moscow, and Victoria, and of the Scout Movement and a wide range of professions, organizations and disease sufferers.

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Along with all ancient saints’ lives there is a great deal of uncertainty as to the actual facts of his life. The following is usually accepted by church historians as reasonably accurate. You’d do well to take it with a grain of salt. George’s family were Greek nobles who were faithful Christians, so he was raised Christian. His father, Gerontios, was a Greek from Cappadocia, an officer in the Roman army; and his mother, Polychronia, was a Greek native of Lydda. They decided to call him Georgios, a stock name meaning “worker of the land” (i.e., farmer). At the age of fourteen, George lost his father; a few years later, George’s mother, Polychronia, died. When his mother died George decided to go to Nicomedia, the imperial city of that time, and present himself to Emperor Diocletian to apply for a career as a soldier. Diocletian welcomed him with open arms, as he had known his father personally and considered him one of his finest soldiers. By his late 20s, George was promoted to the rank of tribune and stationed as an imperial guard of the emperor at Nicomedia.

In the year  302, Diocletian (influenced by Galerius) issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods of the time. However, George objected, and approached the emperor. Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best tribune and the son of one of his best officials. But George loudly renounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Roman gods. George refused them all.

Recognizing the futility of his efforts and insisting on upholding his edict, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have George executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s city wall, on 23 April 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honor him as a martyr.

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George’s most famous exploit, his slaying of the dragon, is undoubtedly apocryphal unless dragons existed in the 4th century that I am unaware of. In tamer versions of the story the dragon is a crocodile. The original story was brought back to Europe by the Crusaders and retold with the courtly appurtenances belonging to the genre of Romance (courtly knight rescuing a damsel in distress). The earliest known depiction of the legend is from early 11th-century Cappadocia (in the iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church, George had been depicted as a soldier since at least the seventh century); the earliest known surviving narrative text is an eleventh-century Georgian text.

In the fully developed Western version, which was part of the Golden Legend, a dragon or crocodile makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of “Silene” (perhaps modern Cyrene in Libya or the city of Lydda in the Holy Land, depending on the source). Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon at first a sheep, and if no sheep can be found, then a maiden is the best substitute for one. The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, this happens to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life to be spared, but to no avail. She is offered to the dragon, but then Saint George appears on his travels. He faces the dragon, protects himself with the sign of the Cross, slays the dragon, and rescues the princess. The citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.

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Depictions of Saint George slaying a dragon often contain the image of the young maiden who looks on from a distance. The standard iconographic interpretation of the image icon is that the dragon represents both Satan (Rev. 12:9) and the monster from his life story. The young maiden is the wife of Diocletian, Alexandra. Thus the image, as interpreted through the language of medieval iconography, is a reference to the martyrdom of the saint.

Saint George’s patronages are so vast it would be impossible to cover them all. St George’s Day is celebrated in various ways in numerous countries. St George is the patron saint of England, and the national flag is a St George’s cross, a red cross on a white background. When I was a teenager living in England you almost never saw an English flag, nor paid any attention to St George’s day. It was probably the FIFA World Cup that brought the English flag to the fore because the nations of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), compete individually. Thus, fans of the English team use the St George cross instead of the internationally more familiar Union Jack which represents the U.K. as a whole.

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There have also been lame attempts to make St George’s Day a national day in England akin to St Patrick’s or St Andrew’s. In truth, none of these national saints’ days was much of a deal until ex-pats used them in their adopted countries as symbolic of national pride. The oldest and biggest St Patrick’s Day parade, for example, is the one in New York. The one in Dublin is a later copy. So now you can buy St George’s Day cards to send, and there are parades in some towns – usually featuring scouts since he is their patron (my copy of Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys has a chapter on honor and chivalry with a prominent image of George and the Dragon). But, from what my friends tell me, it’s really all very low key as it should be.

Nonetheless I can still use the day to trumpet the glories of English cooking once more. This time I want to turn my attention to kidneys. Most of my friends in the U.S. turn up their noses at kidneys (not quite as high as when I mention tripe, but almost). But kidneys have been a solid part of English cuisine for centuries. They were especially prominent in Victorian cuisine where deviled kidneys, or fried kidneys were a standard on the breakfast buffet. What is more, it was not just ox kidneys that were popular. Lambs’ kidneys were much favored too. My association with kidneys goes back to my childhood. Steak and kidney pudding was a beloved meal for me – sadly, most often the soggy kind from cans. But as a student I was addicted to the steak and kidney pies, homemade at my two favorite pubs: the Garibaldi in Burnham (Bucks) where I went to grammar school, and the Wharf House in St Ebbes in Oxford, when I was in college.

Since those days, kidneys have been ever present in my culinary life. I’ll make a steak and kidney pudding or pie at the drop of a hat; kidneys form a part of my “full English” breakfast when I can get them; kidneys in gravy with mashed potatoes are an eternal bond between me and the (former) love of my life; and now kidneys are an essential ingredient when I have an asado (Argentine mixed BBQ). I have made ox kidneys, lambs’ kidneys, pigs’ kidneys – even rabbit kidneys – each with a slightly different taste. I’ve also experimented with new ideas.  Here’s an image of a steak and kidney empanada I made at Christmas time 2 years ago, served with leeks, mashed potato, and gravy (extra kidneys on the side).

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Here is an unusual recipe I culled from Isabella Beeton the other day. It is her version of Toad in the Hole which is a famous English dish normally made nowadays with sausages. It consists of an egg batter base which is topped with meat and then baked until golden. If you make it with sausages you should brown them first but not cook them through. You can find my video for making the batter here, if need be: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMEpmZkVZLUJsR1U/edit?pli=1

The main trick is to mix the flour and cold water to a paste first, and then add the eggs one at a time. This video is part of a series on making a classic Argentine tortilla, but the batter recipe is the same for making Toad in the Hole, and also for English pancakes and Yorkshire pudding.  It rises naturally without any baking powder, although it will collapse somewhat when removed from the heat.

Mrs Beeton does not specify the type of kidneys, but I presume she means lamb (or possibly sheep’s) kidneys. Her recipe is one of her “using up” recipes, that is, dealing with leftovers. One hour seems a trifle long to me to bake the dish. I’d suggest no more than 40 minutes in an oven set at 350°F/175°C. I’d also check regularly and remove the dish once the batter has risen and nicely browned.

TOAD-IN-THE-HOLE (Cold Meat Cookery).

743. INGREDIENTS.—6 oz. of flour, 1 pint of milk, 3 eggs, butter, a few slices of cold mutton, pepper and salt to taste, 2 kidneys.

Mode.—Make a smooth batter of flour, milk, and eggs in the above proportion; butter a baking-dish, and pour in the batter. Into this place a few slices of cold mutton, previously well seasoned, and the kidneys, which should be cut into rather small pieces; bake about 1 hour, or rather longer, and send it to table in the dish it was baked in. Oysters or mushrooms may be substituted for the kidneys, and will be found exceedingly good.

Time.—Rather more than 1 hour.

Average cost, exclusive of the cold meat, 8d.